Update on our Building Plans

Yes.  I know.  I haven’t posted anything for a while.

We have been busy, busy, busy.

Yeah – snow.   Yippee… not!                          But seriously, the winter that we stay up here the whole time in our tiny cottage, we have had record rain and lots of snow!

 

We have also had lots of rain and snow, computer problems (darn hackers), along with limited data availability to blog because we are using up all our data researching stuff for our new home!

We are preparing to submit our plans for the second time to the plan checker for our county soon. We are building with a product called Faswall, which is an alternative building product, so the county is being a bit nit-picky with their code requirements.  The only thing holding us up right now are the corrections for electrical plans.  We gave them to the guy we thought was going to be our contractor about a month ago who said he would do the corrections for us, but he has yet to get back to us on them. Perhaps this is a sign that we shouldn’t hire him.  The electrical plans were mostly done the first time we submitted.  So, to keep the ball rolling, we are contacting another guy to see how much he will charge to complete the electrical plans for us. Harrumph!The newest house plans

In the meantime, we have been doing a lot of planning and shopping and dreaming.  First, we saw this building in Sonora, California, that we just fell in love with!  Since we will have quite a bit of retaining wall, built with concrete block, we really liked how it looked with the gray brick.  Stunning!  So, we went searching for gray brick to use as wainscotting on the outside of the house, accents for the top of the retaining walls and bricking up some columns.  We will also use the brick for the facing of the masonry heater inside.

Believe it or not, even though gray is becoming one of the more traditional colors for brick, we had a hard time finding some. We finally found this brick at a brick yard in South Sacramento.  It doesn’t have the variegation of light and dark gray that I like in the picture above, but it does have some variety and it is fairly rustic looking, so I think this is what we will end up with!

Gray Brick

I think it’s beautiful, what do you think?

Then, while in Sacramento, we went to IKEA to shop around looked at their kitchen cabinets.  My sister remodeled her home a few years ago, and used IKEA cabinets in her kitchen and has been very happy with them.  In fact, I helped put her cabinets together! Since we are building our home on a strict budget, the cabinets are fairly easy for the do-it-yourselfer to install, and they wear well, we are ALMOST certain we will use these.  In fact, here is a computerized picture I drew up on their website tool of what our kitchen could look like with the IKEA cabinets.

I love the way this kitchen looks. Gray cabinets, classic subway tile backsplash, medium brown wood floors.  The range, refrigerator, vent hood and dishwasher will all be stainless steel.

The only problem is that we haven’t decided what color to use.  The style of this cabinet comes in gray or off-white.  I know that gray cabinets are becoming all the rage, which is one reason I am reticent to use them, but we only have one window in the kitchen, and that window faces north and is covered with 12 feet of patio cover, which would make the kitchen fairly dark.  Yes, we are installing one of those solar tube thingys (don’t know which one, yet) over the kitchen island, but with dark wood floors and gray cabinets, we are afraid that the kitchen would be just too dark!

Old kitchen

I loved my old kitchen in the valley. This is a picture of the breakfast nook right next to the kitchen, which shows the white cabinets and wood floor. I am thinking that white cabinets might actually be the way to go,.

Now, the truth is that I love white kitchen cabinets.  I had white cabinets in the house we had before we move up here to our homestead and absolutely loved them!  We had medium dark brown laminate floors and I was obsessed with that combination. The problem?  I want a farmhouse sink.  The one IKEA sells.  The farmhouse sink is white white but the cabinets are just slightly off-white.  Yes, IKEA sells cabinets that are white white and would look good with the sink, it’s just that the style of the white-white cabinets are not mine.  They are just too modern for me.  I am more of a traditional gal.  Wood stained cabinets?  Well…  I don’t think they would look good with wood floors.  Too much wood for me.

What would you do?  I could sure use some advice on this one!

Another decision we have been researching (and researching) is the solar system that will power our off-grid house.  We attended a large “home show” in Sacramento, CA and a smaller one in Chico, CA and talked with quite a few solar companies.  Let me tell you, about 95% of the solar companies out there are for grid tied options only…  they don’t do off-grid.  In fact, some of the smaller companies who said they would do off grid didn’t know as much about off-grid solar as we do! When we started asking them questions about their systems and they talked to us about micro-inverters, we learned to politely walk away.  You don’t use microinverters in an off-grid application.  One guy even tried to tell us he would use the new Tesla Powerwall.  Well…  Um…  No.  We talked with Tesla representative last fall (after being on their list for almost a year!) and the Powerwall is NOT to be used for an off-grid application.  We politely walked away from that guy also. We have been dabbling with solar power on the homestead for several years now. We are running a 5 cubic foot freezer, our satellite TV receiver, flat screen TV, lights, a small refrigerator, and laptop and cellphone charges on a less than 1 kilowatt system with some generator back-up. (SEE HERE and HERE) We did find four companies that we feel would do a good job with our solar system, so to get a fair bid, we are asking each to give us a 4 kWh system to include everything needed for a complete off-grid situation, along with installation on a two story standing seam metal roof.  So far we have received only one bid.  We have also seen some pretty nice solar electric “kits” at online stores.  Renology is an online alternative energy store that has quite a few off-grid options.  Here is one we like:   renogy-4500-watt-48-volt-monocrystalline-solar-cabin-kit.  Another company Wholesalesolar has kit that is a bit more expensive, but may be more complete as it includes mounting racks: the-lodge-4.68-kw-18-panel-astronergy-off-grid-solar-system.  Of course, we would have to hire an electrician to hook it up for us, and that would add to the cost, so before we were to commit to something like that we would also need to get a quote for installation.  Plus, we would still have the cost of the batteries to back-up the whole system.

Decisions, decisions, decisions!

Right now we are also in the process of building a shed over our water well so that it can enclose the well head, a 500 gallon holding tank, a pressure pump and a booster pump.

You can see where the actual well head is with the concrete surrounding it. We plan to incorporate the concrete in a larger slab about 8 x 10, that will house all the pieces and parts of our water system that will supply both our house and our fire sprinkler system.

We had a local contractor (he is a fire sprinkler installer) give us a quote on a system he would install for us, including the water requirements (pump, booster pump, holding tank, pressure pump) and the requirements for the sprinkler system.  He said he would use all USA manufactured parts (something we desire if at all possible) and explained what we would need for the whole system to be up to code.  This is a bit tricky because of the required fire sprinkler system in our house which has certain pressure requirements, along with the water for the house.  Well, believe it or not, he lied to us about what we would need! He gave us the cadillac system with integrated this and that, and told us that it was code. When we called the county to verify, we realized that the chump was trying to over-sell us!  Arrrrruuuuugggggghhhhh! That was about two months ago. We found a company from a neighboring town who will do the job for a lot less. Then we had a local pump and well guy come up that said he could install just the water system (not the fire sprinkler system) and would send the quote on-line in a week or so, but never did. That was over a month ago. We don’t want that quote anymore.  ;(

What is with these guys?  Apparently we are on mountain time!

We found another guy who actually showed up when he was supposed to, gave us a quote we liked, lowered the quote because we are doing some of the work ourselves, and has returned every single one of our phone calls.  I will be proud to recommend him for any locals and I will show you his work when he is done.

So, let me know what you would do about the kitchen cabinets.  I had a friend suggest “kitchens to go” or something like that, so I will be doing more research into that during these next few weeks. Also, I have found a few possibilities at both Home Depot and Lowes.  Even though we haven’t even broken ground yet, I am researching these things now so we have a better idea of the costs involved.  Hopefully we will also be hearing from a few of the other solar companies we have contacted and will get some reasonable bids. There is one company I hope comes in with a great bid because the owner, Loren, has some other very innovative ideas regarding water heating along with the solar electric.

Okay – so now you are pretty much up to date with our lives at this point!  Please leave a comment if you have any ideas, questions, comments…  just click on the comment bubble next to the title of this post, but keep it family friendly, please!

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Getting Ready to Build!

http://www.clipartof.com

http://www.clipartof.com

We have been working with an architect and an engineer to design our house plans, and were finally able to submit the plans to our building department last month.  They wanted a small fortune in building fees, but our biggest shock was the $8,500 + impact fee to our school district.  Holy cow, I think we just paid for half a classroom!

In the meantime, we have been getting bids for the final excavation and foundation work.

Wowza!

The estimates are much, much more than we anticipated.  The problem is that we are essentially building a three story structure, so the foundation under the basement is requiring 7 foot wide footings and a poured in place concrete wall 8” thick and 35’ long!  Holy Cannoli – we can’t afford that!  Especially since the concrete trucks are tacking on a premium to bring the concrete up the mountain to our property.  (Some silly thing about diesel costing a lot 😉 of money)

This is one version of the main floor of our house plans. I can't wait to live in this house!

This is one version of the main floor of our house plans. I can’t wait to live in this house!

Hmmmmm…  So, we thought long and hard about this.  Why do we want a basement?

  1. The back third was going to be walled off and turned into a root cellar.
  2. Storage – canned goods, household stuff and, of course, junk.
  3. A cool place to sit on a hot afternoon.

We decided (no brainer) we can always build a root cellar elsewhere.  Also, going up and down stairs when I am 85 years old to get my canned goods and stuff – well, let’s just say it’s not something I am looking forward to!  Besides, this is supposed to be our final forever home, and we need to have everything required for everyday living on one floor!  The upstairs only has two bedrooms and a bathroom, so I will only need to go up there when we have guests!

Therefore, we decided to send the plans back to the architect and engineer and nix the basement.  Besides, they had LOTS of changes to make for the county plan checker anyway. Let me tell you – California has some crazy codes that we must adhere to!  More about that later.  Now, if you look at the floor plan above, maybe we could turn the area where the stairs going down to the basement would have been into a nice long pantry? What do you think?  We will see what the architect says.

People warned us that this was a very long, frustrating process, and let me tell you…  they were so right!

This is what the Shelterworks Faswall block looks like.

This is what the Shelterworks Faswall block looks like.  You can see lots of beautiful homes built with these blocks on their website – which is also where I got this picture!  🙂

In the meantime, we have already purchased the Insulated Concrete Forms, or ICF.  We decided to go with a company called ShelterWorks and their product called FasWall.  We have done a lot of research for a few years now, and these FasWall ICFs are probably the easiest to work with, the most insect and fire resistant, and breathable insulated forms on the market today.  FasWall is also easier to build with because regular carpenter tools are used and, unlike the plastic ICF, you can actually screw or nail into the form at any place.  One more reason we were sold on FasWall is that the wood used in the form is made from mineralized and recycled shredded wood from old wooden pallets.  The ICFs are stacked together like Legos, with rebar placed vertically and horizontally within the cavity of the ICFs, and then concrete is poured into the cavity.  Essentially, this makes a waffle grid of concrete within the walls, and gives the effect of superior insulation and stability.

Doesn’t that sound fantastic?

It does cost a bit more (5-10%) to build a home with these forms than it does a stick built house.  However, the payback comes with the energy savings.  The houses built with these forms are solid, very energy efficient, almost sound-proof, and essentially pest (think termite, carpenter ant, mouse) proof!  Also, the fire resistance of these ICF walls is important when you consider that we are living in the middle of a forest here in Northern California, where wildfire is not at all uncommon.  We have been working with Paul Wood, one of Faswall’s representatives, who has been very helpful in getting our building plans moving forward.

This big old Douglas Fir just had to go. So sad. We wanted to use the wood in our house, but California code required that it be graded and certified by a professional - timely and costly. Yet another one of those "codes" run amuck!

This big old Douglas Fir just had to go. So sad. We wanted to use the wood in our house, but California code required that it be graded and certified by a professional – timely and costly. Yet another one of those “codes” run amuck!  Grrrrrrrrr…

In the meantime, we have been getting our building site ready.  We had some beetle killed trees that needed to come down, and a couple other smaller trees that were right where our living room will be, so they all had to go.  We had a massive Douglas Fir that we wanted to save (above), but sadly, after some excavating and figuring right where the house would go, we realized that it was going to be too close to the house for fire safety.  Not to mention the fact that it was leaning right toward where our master bedroom was to be.  Since the tree was too big for Ray’s chainsaw, we called in Clyde, a Professional and Licensed Logger to drop the tree for us.

The beginning of excavation to make a flat building site - first you have to remove the tree stumps!

The beginning of excavation to make a flat building site – first you have to remove the tree stumps!  These guys made it look too easy.

The initial excavation has also been done.  The excavators popped out the tree stumps we had cut, scraped the lot clean of brush, and then cut into the hillside a bit so that the land would be level.  They were wonderful to work with and very respectful of our property, keeping clear of the septic tank so they wouldn’t damage it.

All of the brush was piled into a huge pile, so later Ray and I burned most of it, and cut up for firewood what was large enough to bother with.  It took us several days to get that accomplished, and we were able to get the brush burned before our burning permits were restricted for the fire season.

This is our nice, level building spot! The orange tape on the stakes indicate where the septic tank is. We have been busy burning duff and forest debris, trying to get the house site "fire-safe". It sure is a lot of work!

This is our nice, level building spot! The orange tape on the stakes indicate where the septic tank is. We have been busy burning duff and forest debris, trying to get the house site “fire-safe”. It sure is a lot of work!  The ashes are about where the kitchen will be, and the trees will be the view looking south-east out our front windows!

We are also busy raking up the forest duff, pulling out small bushes and trees, and laddering up the trees that will remain, so that the immediate area thirty feet around our house will hopefully keep a wildfire from getting too close to our house, and help firefighters to defend it.  Nancy, from our county fire department, will be up soon to tell us how we are doing and what else we need to do to make our home fire safe. Unfortunately, getting homeowner’s insurance in our neck of the woods is nearly impossible, so we want to make our home as fire safe as possible!

So, wish us luck, send good thoughts, or even a few prayers that our architect and engineer don’t take too long to get the changes and corrections made to our plans!  I would really like to at least have our foundation poured this year – God willing!

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Sourdough Pasta

pasta made from sourdough starter

A bowl of chicken and rustic sourdough noodle soup with a side of buttered sourdough bread. It doesn’t get much better than this, folks!

Pasta has always been my “go-to” favorite for an easy, quick meal.  Of course, that was when I purchased the pasta, pasta sauce, the meat or cheese (or both) and spices!  Now that I know better and have more time, I have started canning my own pasta sauce, grinding my own beef and even growing and dehydrating my own spices!  Naturally, I also make my own pasta.  A couple of months ago I began experimenting with sourdough, and when I found a recipe on Cultures for Health for making sourdough pasta, I was all in!

how to make sourdough noodles

This is fresh out-of-the-refrigerator, hungry sourdough. Do you see that brownish liquid? That means this starter is HUNGRY!

My sourdough starter has performed very well.  When I first told people I wanted to try sourdough, I was given all kinds of dire warnings about how I would have to bake every week or the starter would die.  Well, I can tell you now from experience that I don’t have to make something with the starter every week – it hibernates just fine while in the refrigerator!  All I really have to do is feed it by stirring in some flour and water once a week, set it back in the fridge, and all is well! I even forgot it for a few weeks, but once fed and out of the fridge, it perked up just fine! 😀

how to make noodles out of sourdough starter

This is my expanding supply of sourdough starter, warm, fed and very, very happy!

Now that I have been experimenting with the sourdough starter for a while, when I plan a sourdough baking day, I make it worth my time!  Instead of throwing away half the sourdough (oh no) and feeding the rest, then repeating every 8-12 hours for at least three feedings, I save all of the sourdough and feed it all!  That way, I can make a lot of stuff with the sourdough!

pizza crust made from sourdough

This is the first batch of sourdough pizza crusts ready for the oven.

This last week I made a bunch (eight, to be specific, but who’s counting!) of sourdough pizza crusts, shaped into rectangles (it fits better on my baking sheets and in the freezer) and partially cooked them before I froze them for future meals. Sourdough pizza is really delicious!

Then I made some bread.  You can see this post on some of the first sourdough bread I made.  The olive and parmesan loaf is wonderful!  On this most recent epic sourdough day, I tried adding Italian flavoring to one loaf – oregano, basil and garlic – and it was really, REALLY good!  I will do that again!

♪♫♪♪ O sole mio ♫♪♫♫

So, let’s see – two loafs of bread, eight pizza crusts…   lots of sourdough starter left!

Hmmm…

Now what…

That’s when I went to the Cultures for Health website and saw it…   Pasta!

I won’t go through all the recipe details here, but in a nutshell you add whole wheat flour to the starter along with egg yolks, mix it up until it forms a nice ball (not much kneading necessary) and then let it sit for at least 8 hours or over night.  This allows the sourdough yeast to work it’s magic throughout the mix. I let mine rest overnight because I figured the longer it fermented, the better the dough would be for my health!  I also assumed it would be easier to roll it out, and I was right.

The next morning I was happy to see that my sourdough pasta dough had become spongy, which is a good thing. Sourdough is more digestible than standard bread and more nutritious, also. Lactic acids help neutralize the phylates in flour which can interfere with the absorption of vitamins and minerals. The acids also slow down the rate at which glucose is released into the blood-stream, lowering the bread’s glycemic index, preventing insulin spikes. They also make the gluten in flour more digestible and less likely to cause food intolerance.

Rustic sourdough noodles

I love my pasta roller! It rolls out pasta in 10 different thicknesses and does a much better job than I can do with just a regular rolling pin!

I grabbed a handful of the dough and rolled it flat with my handy-dandy pasta machine. One important note when rolling sourdough through a pasta roller – make sure both sides are floured first!  If the dough is not floured, it will stick in the roller and make an epic mess! Haha – I know this well from experience! Of course, you can roll it out by hand. Once flattened, the pasta dough goes through the noodle cutter, which you can also do by hand. Waa Laa  – sourdough pasta noodles!  (waa laa means “there it is” in redneck French)

How to make noodles from sourdough

“Necessity is the mother of invention”, or in my case, “making do”!

But then, where to hang them to dry?  My dearest has already agreed to make me a pasta drying rack (thank you in advance, sweetheart), but what do I do now? Improvise! 😀  This large container with the wooden spoons laying across actually made a decent pasta dryer!

Don’t laugh, it works!

But I didn’t stop there.  Did you expect me to?

I bought a ravioli maker last year because it looked like it would be an easy way to make a lot of raviolis.  I got it on sale at Williams-Sonoma (free shipping also!) and when it came in the mail I had to set it aside because Christmas was coming, the goose was getting fat, and I had other things to do.

Today was the day to try it out.

First, I rolled out some of the sourdough pasta dough and got it pretty thin.  Then, I laid the pasta on top of the ravioli maker after it had been floured, and gently…  oh so very gently… pushed the dough into each depression.

Sourdough ravioli

After placing the dough on top of the ravioli maker, then pressing into each depression gently, I placed the filling into each and then covered with another layer of sourdough pasta.

Hmmm.  I got a couple of tears in the dough, but was able to patch them.  Then I filled each depression with a mixture of cooked chicken, some gouda and crimini mushrooms, all diced very small to fit a good mixture into the pockets.

Making ravioli with sourdough pasta

This was Mmmm Mmmm good! A light bechamel sauce with mozarella topped the ravioli quite well!

Next, another sheet of pasta was rolled out and placed on top of the first!  Then, all I had to do was take a wooden roller (included with the ravioli maker) and roll over the top, and – presto – ravioli!

I can see how I could spend an hour making a lot of raviolis and freeze them for several meals later in the month.  After-all, once you have all the equipment out and everything is coated in a fine dust of flour 😉 , you may as well just get a bunch done!  Right?  Just remember to lay the ravioli on a parchment or waxed paper lined baking sheet and freeze for about an hour.  Once frozen, you can throw them into a freezer bag or other freezer container and they shouldn’t stick together.

How did they turn out?  Absolutely delicious!  What would I do different?  I think next time I will add a bit of sauce into the filling mixture so that it is more “full”.  The chunks of chicken and mushrooms and cheese had pockets of air between them after they were cooked.  Luckily, that didn’t effect the flavor, but I need to experiment just the same.

How to make ravioli with sourdough starter

Just for fun, I thought I would show you a few of the “fails”! Remember – flour, flour, flour!

Whew – what a day – actually almost two!  But look at what I accomplished – all done with Frank, my sourdough starter.

Frank?  Well, yes.  I name my cultures…  don’t you?  I decided to call him Frank because my specific culture is San Francisco Sourdough.  Francisco…  Frank… get it?  😀

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Orange Peel Candy

recipe for orange peel and chocolate candy

This is a section of our naval orange tree! It is absolutely loaded with sweet and juicy oranges.

When we sell our home and move up to our future homestead, the thing I will miss the most is our orange tree.  For the past 15 years (the tree is about 20 years old) we have been blessed with the sweetest, juciest and most abundant oranges one could ever wish for!  We did plant a Tango Mandarin in a large pot a couple of years ago and this year we will have our first actual harvest!

For years, our favorite dessert in the winter has been to sit down with 1/2 a Hershey’s Dark Chocolate bar (yes, we share one bar) and a big, juicy orange.

One bite of orange, one bite of chocolate.

Repeat.

🙂

Recipe for candied orange peel and chocolate candy

A great book – lots of wonderful information and laugh out loud funny!

Over the holidays I read a new book I got from our library sale called The Quarter-Acre Farm – How I kept the Patio, Lost the Lawn, and Fed My Family for A Year.  This is a really good book. Spring Warren, the author, lives in Davis, California, which is smack dab in the middle of Northern California – not far from where I am living right now!  Her writing style is very humorous and I found myself laughing out loud quite a bit!

Anyway – in the book she gives a recipe for Candied Orange Peel dipped in Chocolate.  Holy Cannoli – this sounded like a recipe from heaven and I just had to try it! candied orange peel in chocolate

The first thing to do, of course, is peel your oranges.  The recipe calls for the peel of six oranges…. no problem.  😀  I peeled mine in strips, then scraped most, but not all of the pith off.  The pith is where a lot of nutrients are, and since the peel is being candied, the pith won’t taste so…  well…  pithy.

chocolate covered candied orange peelThe next step is to place the orange peels in a pot, cover with water, boil, drain, boil again, drain and boil once more for a total of 3 times.  I guess this is to get a lot of the oils out of the peel (which can be bitter) and also to soften the peels a bit.  Then, I added about two cups of water and one cup of sugar to the pot, placed in the boiled orange peels, set the pot on the stove at the lowest simmer, and let it simmer for about an hour.

The author warns not to stir the orange peels while they are in the sugar solution or sugar crystals might precipitate on the peel.  You don’t want that.

How to candy orange peel

Then, either set out on parchment paper to dry or place in a dehydrator.  Either way, the orange peels will still be a bit tacky when dry (because of the sugar) but when you bite into them, they taste like a burst of orange flavor!  So good!  The texture is somewhat like a gummy bear, but a bit softer.  And they are translucent!  We almost ate all of the orange slices as they were!

The dehydrator pictured hererecipe for candied orange peel was given to Ray and I a few weeks ago by a wonderful couple, my daughter-in-law Wendy’s parents!  Jack and Donna are two of the most positive and kind people I know. They are always quick to lend a hand and I have always enjoyed spending time with them. I am so glad our son blessed us with Wendy and her family. However, these past few months have seen some trying times for the two, and if you have a moment, Jack needs some special prayer and good thoughts sent his way. Thanks.

As you can see, I also dried some bananas!

candied orange peel in chocolateNow to dip the now candied orange peel in chocolate (the ones that are left!) for the ultimate yum!  After heating some dark chocolate chips in the microwave to melt the chocolate, I dipped each piece and laid it on parchment paper.  I also dipped the banana chips.  I took the banana chips out of the dehydrator before they were totally done, so that they were still pliable and not crunchy.

Now doesn’t that look good!  Let me explain to you how good these are.

Well…  You see…  Hmmm…   No words can describe how good these are! 🙂

And to think I used to throw the orange peel in the compost pile!!!

orange peel and chocolate candy

Now that it’s orange season again, I hope you try this recipe!  Even if you don’t eat too many oranges, save the peel in the refrigerator (scrape off some of the pith first) in a fairly airtight container, and when you have enough you can try this.  You won’t be sorry!  I’m thinking of doing the same thing with lemon peel.  I wonder if it will be as good?

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